When people think dividend stocks, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is sure to be high on the list. After all, the massive pharma stock pays out 3.75% annually, solidly beating the S&P 500's yield of around 2%. And given that Pfizer only paid out 56% of its free cash flow as dividends in the trailing 12 months, it's a well-covered dividend with room to grow.

This growth opportunity is strengthened by the business's recent success, too. With breast cancer drug Ibrance firing on all cylinders, and management's smart decision not to split the company, there's plenty of reason to think that Pfizer has a bright future.

Yet there are other stocks that are clearly better bets.

Retirement Income

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Every investor is looking for something a little different in their dividends. Some seek greater dividend stability, some are looking for more upside based on current business execution, and others are seeking demographic tailwinds that can give a dividend more growth upside. Whichever preference you have, there's a stock for you to check out below -- one which is a better bet than Pfizer over the long term.

More dividend stability

You can't easily get more stable than healthcare behemoth Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). If the fact that it's a dividend aristocrat that has increased its dividend annually for over 50 years isn't good enough for you, there are a number of other ways J&J shows its incredible stability and long-term staying power.

Consider, for example, the stability of a diverse business model. While Johnson & Johnson is best known for Band-Aids and Tylenol, the consumer segment only represented 18% of last-quarter's revenue. Pharma made up 47%, while medical devices achieved 35%. That diversification means that, when a particular segment is struggling -- as the consumer segment is right now, as revenue declined year over year by 2% -- the others can provide ballast and capital to keep the business going, so J&J can allocate capital wherever it's most needed.

Of course, that stability comes with a trade-off. J&J is so big and diverse that it's difficult to move the needle in a meaningful fashion, so growth, while consistent, will also tend to be pretty slow. But if you're a defensive-minded investor looking for a stable dividend stock, it's hard to beat J&J. And with a 64% cash dividend-payout ratio, J&J's 2.75% annual dividend has both a strong margin of safety and plenty of room to grow.

More dividend upside

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) is struggling with a stagnant top line as its explosive Hepatitis C franchise growth reverses into a steady decline driven by competition and price cutting. Nonetheless, the core HIV business remains strong, with HIV and other antivirals achieving 32% year-over-year growth in the third quarter of 2016.

Gilead is rapidly developing its pipeline, making "go/no-go" decisions on a number of drugs to ensure that it rapidly brings high-potential drugs to market. Currently, management is heavily focused on drugs to potentially treat non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (or NASH), with GS-4997 figuring prominently in management's plans to return to growth. Additionally, CEO John Milligan has made it clear that he's looking for companies Gilead can buy to juice additional growth.

Even if Gilead's plans to grow don't pan out -- personally, I'm bullish on the company's opportunity -- it still has plenty more room to grow its dividend than does Pfizer. Gilead paid out a paltry 14% of its free cash flow in dividends over the trailing 12 months, according to data from S&P Market Intelligence. For that reason alone, its dividend, which is yielding about 2.5%, is superior to Pfizer's.

Long-term business expansion

HCP (NYSE:HCP) is, in many ways, a kind of sleepy business. It's a real estate investment trust (or REIT) that buys healthcare buildings and makes money by leasing them out to tenants. Its particular specialty areas are senior housing (43% of portfolio cash net operating income, or NOI), medical office buildings (22% of NOI), and life science space (21% of NOI).

HCP recently spun off some of its portfolio to better focus on 50 metropolitan areas with strong population growth. With 10,000 baby boomers a day turning 65 from now through 2029, and healthcare spending among elderly Americans much higher than for other age cohorts, HCP can expect lots of demand for the services provided by its tenants.

That gives HCP strong demographic tailwinds for gradually and thoughtfully expanding its business, driving more revenue, more NOI, and more dividends. With a 5% dividend and a 77% forward FFO payout ratio -- a commonly used metric among REITs -- HCP has a lot to like about it long term. (Note: Investors should look for an FFO payout ratio under 85% for a safe dividend.)

Find the dividend that's right for you

Every company is different, and the one you pick will depend on your long-term investing goals. But the key point to remember is that size of a dividend doesn't necessarily matter nearly as much as its stability, or growth potential. This is based either on the business as-is, or on its longer-term demographic tailwinds. Most importantly, find the mix that works for you.

Michael Douglass owns shares of Gilead Sciences and Johnson and Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson and Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.